If you follow my blog, you know that I have an adult daughter with autism. For us, this means that we live our lives very explicitly and literally. Everything is talked about. Most parents think this sound wonderful, having a child that tells you everything. But I frequently walk away from our conversations shaking and wishing just a little could be held back. A smidge?
Ok, so a recurring theme for us is self-esteem. Despite my best efforts to push my wonderful, beautiful daughter towards my own recent realizations about health and body acceptance, she is destined to follow in my footsteps: That is, she is dieting. She is very focused and determined, but also overwhelmed and struggling. As with most diets, her initial efforts were rewarded with slow but steady weight loss. However, after losing about 35 pounds, her weight loss has stalled. And after three weeks of dieting and exercise she has lost exactly 0 pounds.
This has led to many a tear-streamed meltdowns.
What can I say to her? She is angry and frustrated and wants me to do something. (Seriously, if I had these answers, I’d be a millionaire with my own tv show, right?) Diets don’t work, I tell her, and give her so many reasons why. But she is exactly where I was at her age. Determined to fix it. Frustrated that the “calories in-calories out” method (and every other method) doesn’t work. And feeling like a failure.
Then she starts in with the self-abusive talk. She hates her body. She feels like a failure. She’s stupid, weak…
I ask her, “Would you talk to a friend that way?” She stops and looks at me, but I’m serious, not making a joke. If a friend was trying to lose weight, doing everything “right” and not getting results, would you tell them they were a failure? That they were stupid and weak?” Of course not.
“What would you tell them?” I asked, and she seriously considered before answering.
“I’d probably tell them they look beautiful the way they are. That they don’t need to lose weight.” Her lip starts to tremble and tears flow. “Why can’t I say that to myself?” she asks. “I know it in my head, but I just can’t believe it about myself.” How come she got it in 20 years when it took me 48?
So this is my theory, unscientific and unproven, but I like it anyway. I honestly and firmly believe you can’t have long-term success at health, weight loss, or pretty much any self-improvement, if you don’t start by learning to love yourself. Who wants to do good things for someone they hate? Who wants to invest time and energy in someone unless they are worthy of that time and energy? Learning to live a healthy lifestyle, sticking to an exercise program, eating foods that nourish and don’t destroy you are acts of love. They take extra time, attention, and effort. They take love.
This was the hardest part of my journey to learn, and I’m still learning it. I follow the wise words of body-love bloggers, tweeters, and sisters (my sisters rock, yo!), and while I’m not 100% there, I’m getting better and stronger every day.
I used to think the Pink! song “Don’t Let Me Get Me” was my personal anthem. I wanted to break up with myself. It’s only been recently that I’ve started thinking that might be the problem. About two years ago I decided to stop punishing myself and start treating myself like someone I loved. It didn’t happen all at once, but gradually over time I built up a repertoire of ways to spoil myself and let me know I cared.
This is a case of the actions leading to the feelings (fake it till you make it). I act like I love myself, and in time I actually find I do. Here are some of the things I do to help give me the strength to start to be who I want to be:
- Pampering myself with massages, mani-pedis, and haircuts as often as I can afford to.
- Looking at myself in the mirror every day, and looking for what I like best in the reflection.
- Letting people take pics of me, taking selfies (it’s not a bad word) with my loved ones, and posting pics on my social networks. I have more pics of me from the past year and a half than from the previous 10 put together. I don’t Photoshop out fat, wrinkles or birthmarks.
- Buy myself beautiful clothes that I love, rather than waiting until I’m a specific size, because damn it, I’m worth it.
- Taking some time for myself every day, even when work is super busy, and my personal life is super crazy.
Your list would probably look different, but do you have a list? If not, maybe it is time to start wooing yourself a little. It doesn’t have to be about things that cost money (although jewelry is always nice) but about giving yourself permission to feel good about you. After that, everything else gets easier.